Swampcandy – Mine

•June 12, 2018 • Leave a Comment

There’s a reason why Swampcandy has become one of the most in-demand live bands in the mid-Atlantic – Ruben Dobbs is a force of nature. After all, his stated collective goal is “to leave the audience with the feeling they have experienced a short festival rather than seeing a band play a great show.” But as their new release, “Mine,” aptly demonstrates, Swampcandy are far more than saloon rave-uppers.

While still maintaining faithfulness to their Mississippi Delta influences, “Mine” gives credence to Dobbs’ insistence that he has no allegiance to any genre with 13 songs that explore a wide range. As one example, “Dead Man Walking” is a sonic return to Dobbs’ previous incarnation as Velvet Thud and it’s a post-punk slice of rock and roll glory. But it’s far from the album’s only rager. “San Francisco” is the record’s most visceral nod to American roots music and “Burn The Meadow” sounds vaguely menacing in a Tom Waits meets Tim Burton kind of way.

But for every hard charger, there are songs like the plaintive and positively lovely “Years On End” and the standout “Knock Out” which begins as a lilting and lovely refrain before reaching a hair-raising crescendo. The bookends on “Mine” serve as a perfect testament to Dobbs’ evolution as an artist. Driven by Larry Byrne’s piano, album opener “JC’s Revenge” may initially seem like a whiskey-drenched take on heartache, loss and revenge but when it culminates in a glorious coda, it feels more hopeful than despondent. Similarly, the strikingly atmospheric closing song “Never Going Back” is more a testament to resilience than resignation.

With Swampcandy co-conspirator Joey Mitchell handling bass and the “ubiquitous kick drum,” string arrangements by Ahren Buchheister, and a heavenly choir of Meg Murray, Jen Byrne, and Swampcandy regular Gina Cottey singing backing vocals, “Mine” is more than a sonic expansion – it’s Dobbs’ finest work in what is already an impressive catalogue.

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Diving Horses – One

•May 14, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Diving_Horses_OneThis is music for grownups—real songs for real people—lovingly crafted and put forth with a complete lack of pretense. Here are 11 tracks on which the voice of experience takes center stage with stories of loss and longing, of hope and redemption—all wrapped inside a tight and often lush musical arrangement.

Avid listeners are in for some delightful surprises, including the flare of Dixieland horns near the end of “Angels” and the inspired inclusion of the pedal steel guitar in “Holy Week.” Listen also for wry nods to artists like David Bowie, Neil Young and The Ramones.

The musicianship on “One” is first rate, and every instrument has a reason for being just where it is on any given song. Big props for such a judicious mix, which keeps everything in perfect check on this record.

Time and distance may keep you from seeing your friends as often as you like, but “One” is a reminder that genuine friendship—just like authentic music—is always worth the effort.

by Grant Martin
for Underground Wednesday

Softeyes, “You Can’t Quit A Family”

•May 11, 2015 • Leave a Comment

softeyes-cassette-coverEven though Softeyes is comprised of some of Annapolis’ most identifiable musicians, their collaborative effort, “You Can’t Quit A Family” is a revelation. Fronted by Annapolis’ resident chameleon Casey Callahan-Hean and Baltimore-based singer Josephine Olivia Herbst, Softeyes sarcastically describes their sound as “the soundtrack to all of life’s special moments” but that might not be nearly as ridiculous a statement as they intended. First single, “Everything I Love Is Killing Me” is quite simply, indie pop perfection. It’s simultaneously dreamy and propulsive and in a fair world, would reside on radio playlists alongside indie stalwarts like Belle & Sebastian. It’s so good, in fact, it would almost be understandable if the rest of the record felt like somewhat of a letdown. But thanks to Olivia’s ethereal, nearly otherworldly vocals, that’s far from the case. Album highlights include the spooky coolness of “Vampire Girl,” the near trip-hop of “Gold,” and the lilt of the fabulous “Impending Doom.” Sounding fragile but not broken, Olivia’s voice is simply the sound of resilience. And set against the backdrop of these weighty but catchy, carefully constructed songs, it adds up to a debut that often brushes up against brilliance.

Listen to (and buy) lead single “Everything I Love Is Killing Me”:

Pompeii Graffiti – Five Minutes To Midnight

•June 16, 2011 • Leave a Comment

“Let’s get the band back together.” How many times have those words been spoken? But fortunately, it’s often as difficult logistically as it is artistically, so reuniting with teenage bandmates typically remains pondered but rarely accomplished. That’s usually a good thing. In the case of Annapolis band Pompeii Graffiti, getting them back together took a phone call from the sound engineer of their nearly abandoned debut recording. The results are as promising as they are surprising.

When we first met Ahren Buchheister, he was a 16 year old prodigy that impressed Ruben Dobbs so much as a guitar student that Ruben asked him to join his band Swampcandy. By the summer of 2005, he had formed Pompeii Graffiti with several classmates and they enjoyed the success associated with winning several categories in the Anne Arundel County HS Battle of the Bands. But as life often does, it got in the way as several band members headed off to college, leaving an unfinished demo in their wake. Fortunately, for them and us, local producer and engineer Ryan Cullen was so impressed by the early recordings that he urged Buchheister to reform the band early this year.

Despite the continuing academic careers of two of the original band members, Pompeii Graffiti did reunite by adding bassist Tyler Grimsley and badass local drummer Robin Eckman (Burn the Fields, Elder Statesmen, Cookie Head Jenkins) to the mainstays of Buchheister, vocalist Stephanie Leger and keyboardist Cara Santin. The band also performs with a rotating lineup of other musicians, including violinists, cellists, trumpet players, and rappers and the resulting sound is as varied as it is mature.

Don’t be thrown by the Judas Priest-esque album title “Five Minutes To Midnight.” Or the sea of feedback that accompanies opening track “Pickadilly 3rd.” This is a record that smartly makes it way around the rock landscape with songs that often unfold in movements, veering seamlessly from orchestral pop to gentle folk to rock that brushes up against both metal and punk. And for a record with fairly large aspirations, there’s also a humorous vain that keeps pretense to a minimum.

There’s the lovely and trumpet-augmented “Whale Song (Apology)” that owes a sonic debt to local songwriter extraordinaire Jimi Davies and his band Jarflys. The absolutely fabulous “Blankets” features slightly distorted call-and response backing vocals from Leger tucked into a tremendous pop arrangement. The jagged “Bad Social Habit” calls to mind the art punk of modern purveyors like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Los Campesinos!

And what can we say about “Emo Dance Song.” First off, it’s called “Emo Dance Song.” Secondly, it’s opening lines are “Another goddamn emo song/crying in the basement with the lights off” before setting off on a driving chorus that sounds like Franz Ferdinand and Interpol at the same time. That’s a song, my friends. The faux-hip hop of “I Got Style” with it’s over-the-top posturing and ironic musings about finance and romance (Where’s the G’s at?/Where the money? Where all my gangsta homies/With the honeys) begins almost as pure comedy but something even funnier happens along the way – it actually becomes a good song. By coupling rapper Jesse “Casheer” Smith and the violin, they manage to poke fun at the genre and make Kanye jealous at the same time.

But they save the best for last with the album closer “Settle For Less.” From its opening strings to its Rhodes-driven hook, it’s a song that unfolds over nearly seven minutes and showcases the male and female vocal interplay between Buchheister and Leger that defines the band’s sound.

For a bunch of kids, Pompeii Graffiti sounds like an old band and we mean that in the nicest possible way. In an era where indie has turned toward folk but all too often in the direction of the disingenuous energy of bands like Mumford &Sons, the multi-instrumentalists in Pompeii Graffiti have delivered a self-assured debut that demonstrates a wisdom beyond their years.

Pompeii Graffiti – Blankets

Buy the record in its entirety or track by track.

Just for the fun of it, here’s their take on Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” at an acoustic practice:

Dirty Names – Rock And Roll Mind Control (EP)

•February 24, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Despite having only released their debut recording in May of 2010, the band formerly known as the Names have already had to change, well, their name. The moniker Dirty Names certainly seems appropriate because while they’re still firmly grounded in vintage rock and roll, just a hint of eyeliner now appears to be making an appearance in the proceedings.

Underground Wednesday described their debut as “straight-up rock and roll done right by four kids with all the right influences on their sleeves,” and while that certainly remains the case, they’ve shifted their allegiance from Nuggets-era early Stones to their Exile On Main Street heyday of the early seventies. And what glorious fingerprints they are. Recorded live at Mill Creek studio over the course of just one day, Rock And Roll Mind Control feels both stripped down and fleshed out at the same time.

In a year where the Black Eyed Peas performed at halftime at the Super Bowl, what the world needs is a return to rock and roll with verve and grit and the Dirty Names deliver both in spades. “Rock and Roll Mind Control” is the lone holdover from the album and gets the live-in-studio treatment that the original deserved. “Don’t Try Making A Move” is the bastard child of Little Richard’s “Lucille” and Exile’s “Rip This Joint.” “I Don’t Dare” is a Jagger homage right down to Harrison Cofer’s impression of Mick’s pseudo-Southern accent. “Swimming” flat-out rings and even with the presence of high harmonies that are positively Keith-esque, it owes every bit as much to Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds as the Glimmer Twins.

But the real jewel here is the exuberant “Salt Water Jackie.” Reminiscent of “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking,” it features Cofer’s best vocal performance to date, fortified by tasty piano accents courtesy of new member John Countryman, and a taut hook that just keeps gaining momentum. It’s further evidence that these local kids are about to make good.

The Dirty Names – Salt Water Jackie

BUY THIS RECORD HERE!

Swampcandy – Drink Whiskey With Me

•December 15, 2010 • 2 Comments

Swampcandy has become a duo, with double bass and kick drum player Joey Mitchell joining our old friend Ruben Dobbs as a full time member. Here’s a little something to whet your appetite for their new EP which is expected in early 2011.

Check out more live video from Swampcandy live at the Ram’s Head.

Happy Little Robots – Sneak Preview

•October 19, 2010 • 1 Comment

Noel White’s Mill Creek Studio is doing  it again. This time with Southern Illinois transplants Liquid Indian. Fronted by songwriter and guitarist Greg Harris, Happy Little Robots find the middle ground between songwriters like Neil Young and Steve Earle and more esoteric fare like the Flaming Lips and Sparklehorse and Harris says that’s no accident. He told Underground Wednesday that he’s drawn to influences as disparate as Townes Van Zandt and Guided By Voices, and on “Analog Ohm,” he gives each of them a nod. You can try and pigeonhole Liquid Indian but neither alt country, psychedelic or slacker rock labels really fit. What’s indisputable is an organic style that’s both literate and visceral.

Harris says that White has helped flesh out his sound. “I’m a believer in songs standing on their own with just me and a guitar, but then it’s great to blow them up,” he says. “Working with Noel and the guys he’s brought in has been great for that. And when they come, I just get out of the way. Let good musicians do their thing and you usually get the best results.”

Those good musicians include White on drums, Annapolis stalwart Larry Melton on bass, and Harris’ brother Chris on guitar. “When I write songs, they are more or less pretty simple folk type songs,” Harris says. “I love that kind of music, but getting them in the studio with some great musicians has pulled them into some other realms that I love.”

Those realms include the anthemic grunge of “Golden Age” and the quirky melancholy of “Contact Buzz.” Enjoy both while Harris continues work on an album due in 2011 but you can hear now – only on Underground Wednesday.

MP3:  Happy Little Robots – Contact Buzz

Happy Little Robots – Golden Age